That drop cap girl

Font designer and illustrator Jessica Hische felt she needed to do something distinctive when she left a graphic design studio to go freelance. She decided to produce a daily decorative drop cap and make her creations available online. Now, a dozen alphabets later, her name is known around the world.

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THIS CONTENT IS ALSO AVAILABLE IN INSPIRE ISSUE 43 FROM 2013

Jessica Hische works on her trademark precise, curly handmade fonts and illustrations in a huge old industrial building in Brooklyn, New York, surrounded by a low hum of like-minded designers, many of them friends. She tweets constantly, describing herself as a “classic over-sharer”. Her work has appeared everywhere from wine labels to Barnes & Noble book covers, and she’s forging global connections, thanks to a deceptively simple idea.

In her studio in Brooklyn, Hische works on a wide range of identity and book design projects. See more at dailydropcap.com

When she left her day job with the New York-based graphic design firm Louise Fili to go freelance in late 2009, Hische decided she needed a side project. She came up with the Daily Drop Cap. Every working day, she would hand-draw one new letter, a decorative drop cap, until she had 12 complete alphabets in all. After a brainstorming session with friends, she decided to make each letter available for use online – “for the beautification of blog posts everywhere”.

The simple idea turned out to be a stroke of genius when it came to self-promotion. Within days of its launch, the site had received an enormous amount of traffic, and within months it had been featured on hundreds of design blogs. “I didn’t know at the time that my little pet project would be what really catapulted me onto the design scene, that it would be how most clients were originally introduced to my work, and that it would forever brand me with the nickname ‘that drop cap girl’,” says Hische.

“As a letterer, when I’m hired to draw the word ‘holiday’ I don’t first draw the entire alphabet in the style I wish, then position the letters to spell out the word," explains Jessica Hische. “I draw the word as a unique image.”

Two years later, the alphabets are finished, but they remain online and free to use. Hische has traveled the world speaking on design, and has released two commercial typefaces, Buttermilk and Snowflake. She works on a wide range of identity and book design projects, and her illustrations have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly, as well as many major design publications in America and abroad. She also recently designed film titles for the latest Wes Anderson film, Moonrise Kingdom.

Hische, who was in her early 20s when she started the Daily Drop Cap, says the project encouraged potential clients to overlook her youth. “It was a hindrance at first, being young,” she says. “But I got so much exposure that people took me seriously, as well as taking it as an inspiration for how quickly you can do things.”

And she is quick. It can take her a couple of hours to draw a new typeface, though her first commercial font, Buttermilk, was three months in development. She uses Illustrator rather than FontLab because she likes a bit of wonkiness. “I don’t want it to look too mathematical or perfect, or for my work to look like it can be made by anyone,” she says. “Before I started the project I was already pretty fast, but any practice makes you faster. There’s a lot of fine-tuning that happens.”

“I don’t want it to look too mathematical or perfect, or for my work to look like it can be made by anyone” 

The key to the project’s popularity was making it interactive. “I’ve had unbelievable amounts of feedback,” she says. “Months later, people are still sending me stuff, and I get so much traffic because of people posting about it on different blogs. What I thought would be a side project has been helpful for my other projects as well.” 

TEXT SAM EICHBLATT FOTO EMILY ANDREWS

 

 

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